PC Classic: DOS games to hop aboard the mini-console bandwagon
Not content with creating rhythm action arcade machines, tiny games hardware company Unit-e is seeking to carve out a share of the mini-console cash-grab with its PC Classic. The small beige box puts a PC gaming twist on the familiar mini retro console formula, putting old DOS games on your TV instead of – you know – console ones (see the NES and SNES Classic editions, for example.)
The games themselves haven't been confirmed yet, though Unit-e assures the world its final rundown of 30 or so games will be fully licensed and legal to play. An accompanying promo video predictably shows the box running Doom – and also, if I'm not mistaken, Quake II.
Though running PC games, the PC Classic is designed with the living room in mind. Unit-e says games will come optimized for the bundled joypad, though will also be playable with a joystick or keyboard and mouse combo. It comes with the obligatory HDMI output, and composite too, if that's your thing.
We've seen some some fairly skeptical coverage of the PC Classic so far, but one gets the impression it's designed to be 90s PC-ugly, with the company's FAQ referring to the machine's "chain-smoker beige" while suggesting other colors will be available.
There's room for healthy skepticism here, but optimism too. This thing will live or die by its bundled games, but there's a wealth of excellent titles in DOS-era PC gaming.
The challenge, as we suspected was the case with PlayStation Classic, will be licensing, but here Unit-e insists it's on firm ground, with a long history of licensing songs for its arcade and mobile games and links to IP holders such as Apogee, Zenimax, id Software, Bethesda, Firaxise and MicroProse.
If there's an elephant in the room it's probably LucasArts, whose Star Wars DOS titles such as Dark Forces and Tie Fighter would be a coup for the machine – as would their excellent point and click adventures like the Monkey Island series and Indiana Jones the Fate of Atlantis. It's unlikely that LucasArts, which has historically guarded its own IP jealously, would be prepared to give up the goods – arguably moreso now that the company falls under the gargantuan umbrella of the Walt Disney Company.
What else might make a wishlist for the 30 or so bundled games? Fingers crossed that at least some of these games are being bandied around Unit-e's Maryland boardroom: Command & Conquer: Red Alert, Sid Meier's Civilization, Doom II, Prince of Persia, Lemmings, Frontier: Elite II, Wing Commander … the list goes on.
Unit-e is set to launch a crowdfunding campaign for the PC Classic, with a target price of US$99 for the machine itself. The company hopes to ship by the middle of 2019.
We did initially wonder whether the final question of the PC Classic FAQ might be a tongue-in-cheek hint at the makeup of the machine:
"Q: Can't I just buy a Raspberry Pi, an enclosure, gamepad, keyboard, and mouse, 3D print a faceplate, install Armbian, buy 30+ games, build the source for ARM or install/configure in DOSBox for each and every game, create a menu system with game art, and tell everyone about it at parties?
However, a Unit-e spokesperson tells us this isn't the case. "That's more of an approximation of what a technically-inclined individual with a month of free time could do to make something similar for personal use," they told us in an emailed reply. "The PC Classic includes a custom board, SD reader, jacks, etc., and production models will use injection-molded plastic for the faceplates. There's also a number of other features that we're trying to pack in but which aren't confirmed yet for production.
"The last line in the FAQ is an attempt to explain how much work and money actually goes into executing a project like this to people who say 'just buy a Pi.'"
You can see Unit-e's promotional video for the PC Classic below.